In 1993 a stroke wreaked havoc on my thirty-three year old body. I still use a wheelchair and often slur my speech. Many stroke recipients can walk and talk just dandy, but are mentally impaired to some extent. Me—my marble pouch is still full. Contrary to popular belief, my stroke wasn’t brought on by a drug overdose or botched suicide attempt; I inherited it from my mother’s side of the family. Involuntarily claiming such a legacy is like my getting stuck with a receding hairline only a much bigger pain in the ass. Most people harbor the misconception that strokes single out the elderly and unhealthy, and necessarily render them batshit. In fact, strokes can occur in people of all ages, including children, and genes can cement the deal. Like a fingerprint, the long-term affects of a stroke vary from person to person.
I lay in a coma for six weeks. Doctors pronounced my stroke the consequence of a failed bid to off myself—at least that was the official explanation. At the time, some people chose to burden me with a greatly exaggerated, though somewhat deserved, reputation as a world class sot and a patently undeserved reputation as a dull-witted junkie. I later discovered that this reputation, coupled with my status as a musician, led many clueless bandwagon-jumpers to conclude that I’d overdosed on illicit recreational drugs and become a drooling head of cabbage. When I came out of the coma, everyone told me this official attempted suicide story and I believed it. As time crawled by, I became more oriented and thought, “Wait just a goddamned minute! That’s not what happened!” But I couldn’t talk or move, and most of the boneheads who tended me assumed that the stroke had fried my cognitive processes.
The proverbial system forced me to endure somewhere in the neighborhood of three months at a Chicago rehabilitation hospital, crammed mostly with lowlife patients who represented all manner of serious injury via urban misadventure. (I should mention that insurance companies don’t want to know you if some titled schlub claims you tried to kill yourself.) After that ordeal “they” dumped into the convalescent home where I spent close to ten years. My physical condition had nothing to do with the length of my stay. Red tape and the American medical system’s indifference born of ignorance conspired to swipe nearly a decade my life.
The state had banished its societal rejects to the nursing home; criminals, psychopaths, addicts, and simliar characters mingled with token seniors, sundry gimps, and mentally disabled residents. Nickel-an-hour lackeys, each without the mental balls to get a job working behind the counter of a convenience store as per a condition of their parole agreement, staffed the warehouse.
I lucked out; the administration of the warehouse assigned me to a two-resident room—some rooms accommodated six. During my stay I lived with numerous roommates, saw several administrative changes and almost monthly changes in the CNA (certified nursing assistant e. g. glorified maid) roster. For a long time, members of the staff with whom I dealt on a daily basis treated me like a retarded leper. I eventually gained enough strength to convincingly tell anybody who patronized me to go fuck them self. The staff had broken most residents’ spirits and wasn’t accustomed to them speaking their minds.
The clueless and amoral administrator of the warehouse predicted that I would spend the rest of my born days in captivity, but toward the end of 2001 I finally got the hell out.
Nowadays I live in the finished basement apartment of a huge private house located about 250 miles south of Chicago. Five cats share the spacious apartment with me. Yeah I use a wheelchair and talk funny, but require much less maintenance than people suspect. I’m doing quite well thank you, and yes my plumbing still works.
These posts are not fictions. I’ve never struggled with a proposed plan of long-term residential medical care for an incapacitated parent or grandparent or whomever—I write exclusively and truthfully of my own experience.